After a 22-hour legislative session, the Massachusetts legislature sent a sports betting bill to the governor’s desk. It was a surprise push to legalize sports betting in the thriving northeastern sports betting market. With the Governor of Massachusetts ready to sign the bill, Massachusetts is set to become the 36th state to legalize sports betting. The Massachusetts sports betting bill also lays the groundwork for quick rule-making.
The next steps for the Massachusetts sports betting bill after the governor’s signature is turning its text into industry regulations. Most sports betting markets pass a regulatory framework in their bills and leave details to the gaming regulator.
This isn’t a cop-out for sub-par regulation, either. The guidelines that sports betting bills set include specific definitions, advertising restrictions, and broad application requirements.
For example, Massachusetts’ bill includes qualifications for sportsbook applicants, including:
- “A person who owns 10 percent or more of a corporate applicant and who has the ability to control the activities of the corporate applicant.”
- “A person who holds a beneficial or proprietary interest of 10 percent or more of a non-corporate applicant’s business operation and who has the ability to control the activities of the non-corporate applicant.”
- “At the commission’s discretion, an executive, employee or agent having the power to exercise significant influence over decisions concerning the applicant’s sports wagering operations in the commonwealth.”
These are already specific requirements that will likely carry over to the gaming commission’s regulations. It could shorten the timeline for writing regulations, accepting applications, and awarding licenses. But even addressing the writing of the regulations leaves several steps.
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Important Steps Ahead for Massachusetts Sports Betting
Once the governor signs the bill and the gaming commission sets ground rules, the sportsbook applications will roll in. This should be where voter and industry analyst attention remains even after the first licenses are awarded. Enforcement of industry standards is a hidden area where sports betting markets make or break themselves.
For example, Colorado’s Division of Gaming had its audit published in April 2022. The audit revealed crucial shortcomings, including investigative procedures that went undone. One sportsbook disclosed a lawsuit to the Division, and the Division marked that applicant as having no lawsuit. Colorado’s sportsbooks also continue to operate with temporary licenses, leaving critical investigations for later.
When Massachusetts releases its sports betting regulations, they’ll reveal much about how regulators will address problem gambling and allocate responsible gambling resources. However, its enforcement of those policies will be the first bar to clear before it can be considered a responsible market.
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The Boston Globe quoted one casino owner who said they hoped that sports betting would be “live by the Super Bowl.”
That’s an ambitious target, and it’s not necessarily a good one. Colorado got its online sportsbooks live in five months. However, its Division of Gaming’s audit shows that it was unprepared for that launch. Colorado could’ve spent that time properly staffing its Division of Gaming and committing time to investigating its licensees.
As the Massachusetts Gaming Commission promulgates industry rules, it’s worth giving the commission time to ensure the sportsbooks that enter the market are qualified to be there.